7 Steps to Decide Whether You Should Quit or Try Harder
Have you ever quit a job the same day you started it? Knowing when to quit can be hard. I’ve quit several jobs, but the one that remains permanently etched in my mind is the night I quit a job only about an hour after I started.
It was a factory job very similar to one that I’d had previously and so I somewhat knew what to expect. We were making interior components for vehicles. Repetitive, sometimes physical work, but at the time the pay was relatively good for me and I knew I could do the job. (Yes, this was long before I started working in mental health when I still floundered about trying to find my way—we don’t all take straight paths, myself included).
There were numerous factors that contributed to me knowing when to quit that job, but the most important one at the time was an overwhelming gut feeling of, “I can’t do this anymore.” Yes, it was an emotional reaction and not a well-planned logical departure. I literally walked out of the building without telling anyone.
The shift supervisor for the night came running after me and I’d already gotten to my car. I had to roll down the window to hear what he was saying:
“You can’t just leave!”
“Watch me!” I replied.
Truthfully, they’d done nothing wrong. It was a good job for the people that I’d left behind that night, but it was not for me. But I considered it a failure in the sense that I hadn’t seen it coming. I wished I’d had the foresight to not even bother. Because I know there is a lot that goes into hiring people, and I’d wasted all of that time for them.
And also, I was embarrassed to have to walk out. Nobody likes that feeling of having failed. This wasn’t a grand failure because it wasn’t my life dream, but it was a failure nonetheless.
In considering that night, I wondered, what contributed to that failure? Was it really a failure? When does knowing when to quit take over?
Even more specifically, how do we know when the voice in our head is our anxiety telling us that we “can’t” versus a voice in our head that is trying to give us good advice?
The central takeaway I’d like you to consider is that knowing when to quit or when to try harder is difficult; you’ve got to do some introspection and ask yourself a series of questions. Really dig deep so that when it does come time to decide, you know you’ve examined it from all angles.
This can apply to relationships, jobs, or any life goals that you are trying to achieve. In the case of social anxiety, it might involve whether you can continue at a job that causes you anxiety, whether to go to a wedding after you’ve accepted the invitation, or even something as simple as whether to step out your door in the morning.
What Are the Benefits of Trying Harder?
First, consider what the mental benefits are of sticking something out such as the spiritual or emotional repercussions. Are there benefits to your well-being of trying harder? In the case of the job that I quit, I couldn’t see any mental benefits of staying that night. I wasn’t invested in that job for my long-term future and it wasn’t a life passion. It was just another job and brought me no particular joy.
Is There Another Way to Achieve Your Goal?
Are there other pathways to achieving your goal? If you quit the path you are on now, can you jump over to another pathway quickly?
I was lucky that night (or perhaps I had planned it that way) that I had another job lined up that I could potentially start the following Monday. Both jobs paid about the same and satisfied my earnings needs at the time. I actually found both through temp agencies. You’d be surprised at how many different ways there may be to satisfy your needs. Look at your desired outcome and figure out another way, if you do decide to quit.
How Much Stress Is the Situation Causing You?
The last thing you want is to let yourself become so overstressed that you storm out the door of your job and burn all bridges. (Ok, I know I did that, but… do as I say, not as I do).
Living with stress over the long-term will wreak havoc with your mental and physical health. If you notice things like developing poor eating habits, irritability, or weight gain, it could be that the situation is stressful, and your anxiety about it is justified and not just “all in your head.” If you see these warning signs, it’s probably time to move on. At the same time, you need to prepare for the stress of a transition and of quitting.
How Much Passion Do You Have?
Passion will carry you far, and if you don’t have passion for what you are doing, your effort will decline. In this case, it’s probably best to think about moving on. Superb examples of the passion problem include performers with social anxiety such as Jon Knight of the New Kids on the Block. If Jon did not have passion for performing music, surely he would have quit the moment he had a panic attack on stage. Knowing when to quit requires you to assess your passion for the path you are on. (Watch Jon talk to Oprah about his anxiety in the video below).
How Many Resources Have You Drawn On?
I love the line from the Simpsons where the Beatnik parents say about their misbehaving child, “We’ve tried nothing and we’re all out of ideas.” How many resources and tools have you tried to help you achieve your goal before knowing when to quit? Are you working smarter rather than harder? Make sure you don’t quit something without giving yourself a chance for success. This might even mean going to a therapist or taking medication if you live with social anxiety that is interfering with you achieving your goals.
Who Is Relying On You?
As part of your decision process, you need to consider who is relying on you and who you will be letting down if you quit. Knowing when to quit requires considering whether a group needs you and you’ve made a promise. That was one of the things that bothered me the most that night that I quit: I’d let the team down and there were some very nice people whom I had just met.
What Thought Biases Are Holding You Back?
When making a decision about whether to walk away from something, consider what thought biases might be getting in the way of thinking clearly. Below are some examples:
Scarcity: If you start to fail at something, you might put in more effort than you otherwise would have, because you perceive that thing as more valuable. An example would be chasing a person in a relationship. You might find yourself staying longer than you should because you’ve placed more value on what has become scarce.
Sunk cost: Sunk cost refers to not wanting to quit something because of how much time you have already invested. An example might be not wanting to leave a relationship because you feel you’ve already put so much time and effort into it.
Intermittent reinforcement: Intermittent reinforcement refers to being rewarded some of the time on an unpredictable schedule. This unpredictable reward schedule causes you to keep working at something longer than you otherwise would. It’s how the lottery works. It’s how slot machines work. Don’t fall prey to intermittent reinforcement.
Make Your Plan for Knowing When to Quit
Okay, now it’s time to make your plan for knowing when to quit or keep going! Go back and answer each of the questions about the situation that you are contemplating. This could be related to a relationship, job, life path, or goal. Then, look at the sum of all the evidence, make your best guess as to the right choice, and jump.
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